Risks during a heatwave
In a severe heatwave, you may get dehydrated and your body may overheat. This can lead to heat exhaustion or heatstroke, which both need urgent treatment.
Symptoms of heat exhaustion include:
- nausea and vomiting
- muscle weakness or cramps
- pale skin
- high temperature
If you think you might have heat exhaustion, you should move somewhere cool and drink plenty of water. If you can, take a lukewarm shower or sponge yourself down with cold water.
If heat exhaustion is left untreated you may develop heatstroke. Heatstroke can also occur suddenly and without any warning.
Symptoms of heatstroke include:
- intense thirst
- hot, red and dry skin
- a sudden rise in temperature
- loss of consciousness
Heatstroke can cause serious damage to your body or even death.
If you have these symptoms during a heatwave, rest for a few hours, keep cool and drink water. If the symptoms don’t go away or get worse, seek medical advice.
Those at most risk
Heat can affect anyone, but some people are at greater risk of serious harm from the effects of extreme heat. These include:
- older people
- babies and young children
- people with mental health problems
- people on certain types of medication – you can check with your doctor to find out if you are at risk
- people with a chronic (long-term) health condition such as breathing or heart problems
- people who already have a high temperature from an infection
- people who consume alcohol or use illegal drugs
- people with mobility problems
- people who are physically active such as manual workers or sportspeople
If anyone you know is likely to be at risk during a heatwave, help them to get the advice and support they need. Older people living on their own should be visited daily to check they are ok.
What you should do
There are some steps that you can take to make sure that you and your family are protected from the dangers of very hot weather:
Keep out of the heat
- if a heatwave is forecast, plan your day so that you can stay out of the heat when possible
- try to avoid going out during the hottest part of the day (11.00 am to 3.00 pm)
- avoid strenuous outdoor activity such as sport or gardening or at least keep it for cooler parts of the day
- if you must go out, stay in the shade and wear a hat and loose-fitting cotton clothes if possible
- if you are outside, take plenty of water with you
- do not leave babies or children alone in a stationary car
- stay inside in the coolest rooms in your home
- close the curtains in rooms that get a lot of sun
- keep windows closed while the room is cooler than it is outside and open them when the temperature inside rises – if you are worried about security, at least open windows on the first floor and above
- take cool showers or baths and splash yourself several times a day with cold water, especially your face and the back of your neck
- drink regularly even if you do not feel thirsty – water or fruit juice are best
- try to avoid alcohol, tea and coffee – they make dehydration worse
- eat as you normally would – try to eat more cold food, especially salads and fruit
- Protection from the sun
- Smart sunbathing
Call an ambulance if you need to
Remember, heatstroke can kill. It can develop very suddenly and may lead very quickly to unconsciousness. If you suspect someone has heatstroke, call 999 immediately.
While waiting for the ambulance:
- move the person somewhere cooler if possible
- increase ventilation by opening windows or using a fan
- cool them down as quickly as possible by loosening their clothes, sprinkling them with cold water or wrapping them in a damp sheet
- if they are conscious, give them water to drink
- do not give them aspirin or paracetamol